Beauty tips for the boys: shaving, part two

I got a package from my parents a few weeks ago that changed the way I shave; it also has given me a new relationship with a man I never knew: my paternal grandfather.

As a bunch of y’all know, my paternal grandmother died a little while back and my parents cleaned out and cleaned up her house for sale. In the package were some personal effects, including my grandfather’s shaving kit. In it were four Gillette “missile silo” double-edged safety razors and a shaving brush. I had used double edged blades before in a very cheap razor I picked up for about a dollar in Jerusalem a few years ago, and as you can imagine, the effect was awful. But I still had the blades.

The modern story of shaving is all about the blades. King Gillette made his fortune by convincing men to replace a single tool (the cut-throat blade) with two (the blade and handle), one of which had to be re-purchashed regularly. When others started making compatible blades, the tactic turned to proprietary handle fittings and marketing-driven upgrades. The double-blade Gillette cartridge came out in 1971, the year my grandfather died. So I never really knew him. Do four blades work better than one? I don’t know that either. But, they certainly cost more. I can get five weeks out of five blades — Wilkinson Sword Classic brand — for 99 cents. (Carfree Washingtonians: get them at the Bed, Bath and Beyond at Gallery Place-Chinatown.) Try that with a Mach 4.

Twisting the handle, the “silo doors” opened and I dropped a blade in. Locked the blade in place and lathered up my face. You’ll excuse me if I say I had a private moment of reflection, thinking of my grandparents at this moment.

Back to the shave. There are some extraordinary shaving soaps out there that hard-core double-blade types like, but cost a fortune and have to be mail-ordered from Edwardian England. There are the white hockey pucks marketed as shaving soap, but I think they smell like perfumed tallow. I use a plain vegetable glycerin soap, and it lathers quite fine.

A hot washcloth and a wash basin to rinse the razor, too. And here’s the bit of unconventional wisdom: shave against the grain. Use a very light hand. Don’t let the lather dry. I now get a closer and more comfortable shave — above and below my newly regrown beard, that it — than I ever have. It took a little practice, but now in a pinch I can even skip a day. That’s new. Oh, these old Gillettes are only worth a few dollars on eBay, and new double-edge razors are still made in Germany. Kevin Kelly — I love his Cool Tools blog — reviews a popular model.

Men converted to this older style of shaving tend to read something deeper into it. Little wonder I found an article that’s both practical and invested with deeper meaning. For your reading pleasure, I present Andy Crouch in “The Best a Man Can Get” from Christianity Today (March/April 2006) —

Every shave, leaving our skin as smooth as it was before we became men, before the years crept in, before we were, alas, responsible for our own face, simultaneously restores us and reminds us that something has gone wrong. We are, if we are fortunate, more than we expected, but not quite what we hoped to become.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. I have used brush & soap for shaving for a while, and I’m always learning and experimenting. Unfortunately, it does add extra prep time in the morning, and it is time I don’t always have–so I have a backup can of shave cream for those not so timely mornings.

    I am very fond of The Art of Shavingproducts, and made sure to visit the store when I was last in NYC. However, there are some caveats.

    First, the brushes seem good, but I’m only now learning the difference between badger hair brushes and cheapo brushes you can get at other places. The difference appears to be in brush longevity and texture. However, I can’t say for a fact that the brushes are worth the money.

    The shaving products are definitely worth it to me. I use the sandalwood pre-shave oil, shaving soap (tube, not bar), and post shave cream. I’ve used the lavender for sensitive skin. I haven’t used the other skincare products and I’m not interested in trying, really.

    While I don’t mind the priciness of the product–because I can feel the difference–I refuse to spend a lot of money on a razor at the Art of Shaving. Why? Because you’re only paying for the handle. And you’re paying a hell of a lot of money, for a handle that uses the Mach 3 razor.

    I’ve become increasingly fed up with the trend in razors. I stuck with two-blade as long as I could, and then three-blade, and now I’ve moved to the Schick Quattro begrudgingly. I only move over when it appears ridiculously difficult to maintain my current razor. I fear that within a decade we’ll all be sporting 24-blade machetes on handles to groom ourselves.

    I’ll have to try this razor out, given what you say.

  2. You’re right. Somehow I missed those on AoS’s website, but I’ve gone ahead and bought the Merkur Classic and a pack of blades via You are a bad, bad influence.

  3. Wow. On Amazon, you can buy 100 Wilkinson blades for $25 or you can buy 16 Schick Quattro bladesfor $35. What a difference…!!!

    The Merkur blades are a little pricier, but still win in comparison to the Schick. A Merkur three-pack (10 blades per pack = 30 blades) is $15, so for $30 (to stick in the same price range as the above, you’re going to get 60 blades. Not as good as the Wilkinson, but still far superior to the Quattro.

    And, for what it’s worth, I went to the Quattro because the comparable Gillette Fusion is 25 dollars for an eight-pack.

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